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Thread: the politics of objective greatness in art

  1. #856
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    Quote Originally Posted by Portamento View Post
    Yes, the axe example was simplistic (and intentionally so) - I suppose I owe an apology to the many lumberjacks of TC. Nevertheless, you reiterate one of my main arguments with the bolded sentence.



    Who are you arguing against? I never suggested any of this.



    Different musical traditions have different aesthetic values, and music should be evaluated according to the aesthetic values of the musical tradition it comes from; no need to universalize things unnecessarily. Besides, if conduciveness to societal bonding was used to evaluate all music, Western classical music post-1850 would score among the worst.



    I'm not quite sure what you're on about here.



    Arguing against elitism is different than imagining elites don't exist.

    EDIT: Thankfully I don't have to explain any further because Nereffid's post above is great!
    Apologies. I think my post was mis-interpreted. I was only really quoting your post to pick up on axes. The rest of my riff was about one strand of this thread which seeks to exalt the "subjective", and not directly about your post.

    I do think that there have been plenty of posts in this thread expressing the view that all that matters is what "I" like. It is that which I was railing against. I find it both incoherent and (to the extent that it is coherent) unattractive.

    On elites, I of course agree that arguing against elitism is different from imagining that they don't exist. My puzzlement is when people seem to imagine that our current world is not one where elites are massively influential, as in post #853 which expresses the view that culture has been taken away from the elite. It doesn't look like that to me.
    Last edited by Eclectic Al; May-04-2021 at 09:28.

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  3. #857
    Junior Member BeatriceB's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nereffid View Post
    No one's denying it - well, maybe the people who insist that classical music was the only proper music of the time are blithely ignoring it. But the elitism then is different from the elitism of today's audiences. Back then, money+power+culture were all firmly in the hands of a single elite; now, culture's been taken away from the elite, and today's elitists are a different bunch: they probably don't have any power, and maybe even not that much money. They're clinging on to their culture all right, but everyone else has their own culture and doesn't care. (Of course back then everyone else had their own culture too, except it wasn't, you know, culture).

    I think that must be galling. Only a few decades ago, classical music was the music that everyone was supposed to aspire to. Now, it's just another genre.
    There is no need to blame them for the "problems" of classical music today, which was suggested in a post above. The problems of classical music today is in part the lack of good composers who bring music to the people, just like rap brings (often offensive, reverse-racism) music to their African-American communities in the ghettos.

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    Senior Member Jacck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eclectic Al View Post
    This I don't agree with. What's happened is that new elites have taken over.
    We are all the targets of what is thrown at us by those in charge of the relevant production and distribution processes.
    Our tastes are shaped by them, not created in a vacuum. The current "big thing" becomes that because of marketing.
    exactly. Many people are susceptible to advertising, marketing and propaganda. It is much more effective than people realize. And who holds the power in current music industry? Who creates the music, produces the recordings, sells them and does the marketing? They are responsible for the crap that is today's pop music. These greedy capitalists are the new elite and they definitely have a worse taste that the old aristocratic elites.

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  6. #859
    Moderator Nereffid's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eclectic Al View Post
    This I don't agree with. What's happened is that new elites have taken over.
    You're right, the point I was getting at was there's no longer a single elite that has all the money, power and culture.

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  8. #860
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    Honestly, I think that this discussion between objectively great or subjectively great is quite futile. One reason for that is that the terms are vague, and people's interpretation of the them varies greatly. But for the discussion to go nowhere it's enough for two people to just place the threshold from subjective to objective at slightly different points.

    But actually, what difference does it make? Every field of human endeavour has groups assuming their own axioms - as does classical music. The quality of an attempt at science, for example, can be summed up by how well it predicts future events. That's quite clear-cut, but it can still be said that it's subjective to say that that's how it SHOULD be measured.

    In the same way some proponents of classical music decided that music should be measured by how avid listeners of classical music evaluate it. This will leave music of other genres at a disadvantage. But to decide whether that is the way to go is subjective. Some subjectivists exhibit quite a bit of glee in pointing that out. But I think that the "objectivists" who despair at that have simply given too much power to the idea that their evaluation is subjective and to the dichotomy as a whole.

    So what if it "is subjective"? That doesn't mean that it should "objectively" be treated differently than if it "were objective great". In fact, if people decided to undermine/defund/supplant/etc. it, its objective greatness wouldn't really help you.

    In practice I think "subjectivity" and "objectivity" has very little meaning or implication. People will decide to do what they will decide to do pretty much irrespective of those words, which will only be used post-facto in some iteration of their meaning.

    So is greatness of art subjective or objective? I don't think it matters.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    I do think classical music and the knowledge of how to preform it should be funded and preserved by a country's cultural institutions largely irrespective of commercial viability. It used to be that a sneering contempt for that was heard from segments of the right which insisted that if an orchestra cannot succeed on the Market it should die. I'm beginning to see signs of that becoming a prevailing view (with varying emphasis). My wish is for that experiment to be at least somewhat contained.

    I was not always a fan of classical music, but I'm glad it was there for me to discover because I have found it a practically infinite space of exploration - for me, even a single piece can be fruitfully harvested for a long period of time. That has not been my (subjective) experience with popular music, which occasionally yielded something I wanted to listen to on repeat only to never want to hear it again. Does that mean it's objectively great? I don't care.
    Last edited by UrbanK; May-04-2021 at 11:28.

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    One question, which I don't know if it has been discussed, is what the people defending the subjectivist side would consider objective as opposed to the greatness of art. That's not a gotcha or trying to imply anything. I'm genuinely curious. I'm also utterly at ease with everything "being subjective" because I don't think it makes a difference.

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  12. #862
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    Quote Originally Posted by UrbanK View Post
    One question, which I don't know if it has been discussed, is what the people defending the subjectivist side would consider objective as opposed to the greatness of art. That's not a gotcha or trying to imply anything. I'm genuinely curious. I'm also utterly at ease with everything "being subjective" because I don't think it makes a difference.
    Yes. I've been boring people endlessly on this point in various ways, and never getting an answer.

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  14. #863
    Senior Member fluteman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eclectic Al View Post
    Yes. I've been boring people endlessly on this point in various ways, and never getting an answer.
    Answer: Read Morris Weitz, The Role of Theory in Aesthetics, for an historical survey and an explanation of why such an "objective" approach to the definition of art, or greatness in art, has never worked and never will; Walter Jackson Bate, From Classic to Romantic, Premises of Taste in 18th Century England, for a detailed discussion of how the impossibility of such an objective approach was dealt with in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries of 'enlightened' aristocratic rulers; and John Dewey, Art as Experience, for how the impossibility of such an objective approach is dealt with in the modern era of science, industry and egalitarianism.

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    Quote Originally Posted by fluteman View Post
    Answer: Read Morris Weitz, The Role of Theory in Aesthetics, for an historical survey and an explanation of why such an "objective" approach to the definition of art, or greatness in art, has never worked and never will; Walter Jackson Bate, From Classic to Romantic, Premises of Taste in 18th Century England, for a detailed discussion of how the impossibility of such an objective approach was dealt with in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries of 'enlightened' aristocratic rulers; and John Dewey, Art as Experience, for how the impossibility of such an objective approach is dealt with in the modern era of science, industry and egalitarianism.
    That's not the point.
    I'm asking what could possibly be meant by an objectively great axe or football club or dishcloth without "subjective" opinion intruding? (As was UrbanK.)
    Last edited by Eclectic Al; May-04-2021 at 13:45.

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  18. #865
    Senior Member fluteman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eclectic Al View Post
    That's not the point.
    I'm asking what could possibly be meant by an objectively great axe or football club or dishcloth without "subjective" opinion intruding? (As was UrbanK.)
    Nothing. All 'objective' approaches to art are flawed workarounds. My favorite probably is humanist rationalism, as eloquently explained by Walter Jackson Bate. The flaw in that is, in its art, every society humans organize celebrates its uniqueness as well as its universal humanity. And the uniqueness of each society is a direct reflection of the uniqueness of the individual.
    Last edited by fluteman; May-04-2021 at 14:00.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BeatriceB View Post
    Wasn't it via "elitism" from those centuries back under the requirements of rulers and the church that classical music flourished? I don't see the point of denying that.
    A lot of great sacred music was written, but it also grew very slowly for a long time, because the church is hardly an avenue for progressivism in art. and a lot of this is survival bias- religious music, by it's sacred nature, tends to be written down, and therefore survive.

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    Senior Member SanAntone's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BeatriceB View Post
    I am aware that it isn't the only genre loaded with such denigrating lyrics but the posts of late has been on venerating hip-hop and classical music. I see any music with sexist and racist lyrics while parading in video clips showing guns, drugs and disorderly activity as dangerous types of music. It isn't good for society.
    Have you heard the rap by female artists? This is not to say that there are not disturbing lyrics in some rap, however, there are also lyrics without any of the kinds of tropes you mention. But more importantly, rap confronts, offers commentary, and presents all aspects of the African American urban culture (and now globally those of other cultures), which includes poverty, hopelessness, crime and many other social problems which Black communities suffer from disproportionately.

    Here are two quotes from an excellent book, that if you are truly interested in rap lyrics, you might read:

    “Rap lyrics contain violence, misogyny, sexism, and homophobia. One must come to terms with these qualities when studying the formal elements of rap’s poetry. As Tricia Rose observes in The Hip Hop Wars (2008), discussions of rap’s content are increasingly reductive and politicized, with neither detractors nor defenders willing to engage in fruitful debate. “The hyperbolic and polarized public conversation about hip hop that has emerged over the past decade,” she writes, “discourages progressive and nuanced consumption, participation, and critique, thereby contributing to the very crisis that is facing hip hop.”

    "The purpose of this anthology is not to adjudicate such matters, but to present rap’s lyrics in such a way that these discussions about content and value might be better grounded and contextualized. Rap is a reflection of a broader culture that too often sanctions the same sexism, homophobia, and violence found in the music. By including lyrics with such content, we present occasions to challenge pernicious influences by confronting them directly rather than simply pretending they aren’t there. At the same time, studying lyrics of targeted offense offers occasions to underscore the often-overlooked fact that hip-hop has formulated its own critiques of sexism, misogyny, and violence. “Most successful female MCs recognize that for them the only place where they can negotiate race, class, gender, and sexuality with relative freedom is the hiphop world,” writes Marcyliena Morgan, describing one such homegrown response to hip-hop’s own failings. “It is not an ideal space but rather one populated by those searching for discourse that confronts power.”

    “In addition to instances of sexism and misogyny, readers are urged to consider ways that rap’s default tone of aggression might promote harmful attitudes toward women. Is hip-hop inherently unwelcoming to women, even when the lyrics are not specifically targeting them? Is there something in the very spirit or attitude of rap that can be identified as misogynist? These are important questions to ask as we seek to expand the discussion of gender in rap beyond the conventional critique of rap’s overt sexism and use of derogatory language. "

    "In addition, we should explore how women artists have expanded rap to embody their own voices. Are artists like Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown, who flaunt their sexuality in a manner similar to their male counterparts, doing subversive and revolutionary work or are they simply succumbing to commercial pressures or adhering to the template established by many young men who’ve made rap their own? “It’s up to female rappers to stand strong to create the yin and yang in this music,” says Medusa, the Los Angeles–based underground MC. “There’s a lack of connection with the male and female energy.”

    — The Anthology of Rap by Adam Bradley, Henry Louis Gates Jr., et al.

    Finally I do not think this thread is the place to discuss rap; there is a thread devoted to it.
    Last edited by SanAntone; May-04-2021 at 14:12.

  21. #868
    Senior Member fluteman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SanAntone View Post
    But more importantly, rap confronts, offers commentary, and presents all aspects of the African American urban culture (and now globally those of other cultures), which includes poverty, hopelessness, crime and many other social problems which Black communities suffer from disproportionately.
    Isn't this the real point here? And more generally, that art plays a role in reflecting conflict and problems in society, not just the idyllic, peaceful and harmonious?

  22. #869
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    Quote Originally Posted by SanAntone View Post
    Finally I do not think this thread is the place to discuss rap; there is a thread devoted to it.
    As a moderator I must point out that members who dislike all rap would be better off not contributing to that thread, as is the case with any thread about sharing favourites or discussing music knowledgeably.

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  24. #870
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    Quote Originally Posted by fluteman View Post
    Nothing. All 'objective' approaches to art are flawed workarounds. My favorite probably is humanist rationalism, as eloquently explained by Walter Jackson Bate. The flaw in that is, in its art, every society humans organize celebrates its uniqueness as well as its universal humanity. And the uniqueness of each society is a direct refection of the uniqueness of the individual.
    OK, but why do you bring in art? I am happy with your agreement that there is no such thing as an objectively great dishcloth: this objection to "objective greatness" has nothing specifically to do with art.

    I think what that tells me is that your interpretation of the phrase "objectively great" is at one end of the range of possible meanings. That is, that the involvement of human judgement in defining the purpose and/or the means of measuring success means that the greatness is not objective. If you want it to mean that then I agree that neither music nor dishcloths can be objectively great: it's implicit in the word great. People need to decide what they're for, so it can't be objective.

    I don't see it that way. The qualities we are considering when looking for greatness are necessarily shaped by human judgement, whether in relation to music or dishcloths, because we need to agree the relevant purposes. The objectivity I would be looking for in this area (if I was ) is in the sense that once the purposes have been agreed, you could expect that any reasonable person assessing any particular instance of the phenomenon with adequate knowledge to form a judgement would agree that this was a particularly successful example of that class of phenomenon according to those agreed purposes.

    Something is never "great" as some sort of isolated quality distinct from its purpose; it can only ever be a "great something", to be assessed in terms of those purposes - and they have to be decided by humans. Same for dishcloths, same for music.

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